Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the latest Jamaican to do so in an alarming surge of infections in the Caribbean nation.
Bolt’s positive test result was confirmed in a virtual news conference Monday night by Health Minister Christopher Tufton ahead of new stay-at-home measures for some communities and a nationwide ban on funeral services and parties for the next two weeks beginning on Thursday.
Tufton said Bolt had been formally notified of his test results and rigorous contact tracing was underway.
Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness said Bolt will receive no special treatment and police are investigating reports that the world-record holder had flouted rules when he celebrated his 34th birthday at a Kingston sports complex on Friday.
Several revelers shared images on social media of Bolt and others not wearing masks while dancing on an outdoor court to the song “Lockdown” by Koffee, a young Jamaican reggae artist. There were also reports that some of the well-known figures who flew in to celebrate Bolt’s birthday did not abide by Jamaica’s rule requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
“No one is going to be treated with any exemption or given any special treatment,” Holness said. “All Jamaicans have a duty, and of course, those who have the public ear and influence in the public spheres have a greater duty.”
Already, 1,000 Jamaicans have been charged and prosecuted for breaking the country’s emergency measures to control the spread of COVID-19, Holness said, citing a report from the country’s police commissioner.
“We have been prosecuting persons. We haven’t made too much of it, and gone out and publicize it because the intention is not to stigmatize,” he said. “But more and more, it would appear that more needs to be made of it; that the public needs to know that we are serious about this and are prosecuting persons.”
Earlier in the day, Bolt posted a video on Twitter and Instagram saying he saw social media reports that he was positive for COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the virus, and was self isolating.
“I have no symptoms. I am going to quarantine myself and wait on the confirmation to see what is the protocol for going about quarantining myself,” Bolt said. “Until then, I talked to all my friends and say … just to be safe, quarantine by yourself and take it easy.”
On Monday, Jamaica’s health ministry announced that the country has had a total of 1,612 positive cases and 16 deaths, with 29,724 Jamaicans currently in quarantine as part of the country’s protocol that all returning nationals must self-isolate at home for 14 days.
Bolt is among 705 active cases currently.
“The recent surge in our numbers should have made it abundantly clear to everyone that the pandemic is far from over, and that the risks are ever present,” Holness said as he announced new stricter measures including the banning of funerals, tighter enforcement by police and lockdowns for some communities. “There is no room for complacency.”
Holness has expressed zero tolerance for Jamaicans flouting measures put in place to try to manage the spread of the virus. Health authorities, he said, have indicated that the recent surge in cases can be linked to several activities including church conventions, funerals and mass gatherings, including parties breaking the 20-person maximum rule.
They have also cited the reopening of Jamaica’s borders on June 15 to international travelers, as well as activities around the independence day holiday in early August and Jamaicans not wearing masks.
“There are a number of pictures and videos that have been circulating of parties with no mask wearing, no social distancing, etcetera,” Holness said. “Today social media has been avidly discussing the positive results of our beloved Usain Bolt. There are also reports of an activity related to Usain Bolt. Now these matters are all being thoroughly investigated and the police will give a report on these matters in the near future.”
Bolt, who became a father in May, is an eight-time Olympic champion and holds the world 100-meter and 200-meter records. He last competed internationally at the 2017 World Championships in London.
After containing the virus, Jamaica is among several Caribbean nations — the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Aruba, U.S. Virgin Islands and Suriname, which is in South America but is part of the community — that are seeing an alarming spike in cases.
Dr. Carissa Etienne, the head of the Pan American Health Organization, said the spikes are worrying and cannot be blamed just on visiting tourists but also on the return of citizens after lockdowns. She noted that two weeks ago, the Bahamas saw a 60% jump in cases over the previous week, while the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago all saw a 25% increase.
Etienne said the number of deaths in the region had doubled in recent weeks, and the new infections were being driven by people between the ages of 20 and 59 while the percentage of those dying were 60 years and older.
“This indicates that younger people are primarily driving the spread of the disease in our region,” she said. “Many young people who contract the virus may not become ill or require an ICU bed, but they can spread it to others who will. So this is a stark reminder that defeating COVID-19 is a shared responsibility.”
Jamaica’s rising number of cases has raised concerns about whether the country should suspend its Sept. 3 general elections. On Sunday night, Holness, who leads the Jamaica Labor Party, announced the suspension of his own campaigning activities, which would have included mass rallies, motorcades and others in person visits, and called on other politicians in his own party and the main opposition People’s National Party to follow suit.